This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the kitchen knife world:
“What is the best way to sharpen kitchen a knives?”
There are a number of different schools of thought on this subject, each with a passionate group of followers, who swear by their favorite method.
(If you have never sharpened a knife, the best place to start is with a dull knife. If you have never sharpened a knife before, then this is the best place to start, even if you ARE a knife expert.)
Taking Good Care Of A Kitchen Knife
It’s hard to make good food without a good knife.
We strongly encourage you to buy a good knife, but if you don’t take care of it, the quality and price won’t matter.
“You’re eventually going to have to sharpen the knife,” says Dave Arnold, a former instructor at the late L’Academie de Cuisine culinary school who runs Precision Knife Sharpening out of his home. “It doesn’t matter what kind of knife it is.”
Skip the 18-piece set. A chef’s knife is the one blade you really need.
Here’s what you need to know about sharpening and other ways you can ensure your knives will last for years to come.
Learn How A Knife Works
Most knives are sharpened to an angle of 30 to 40 degrees, Arnold says, and over time and use, “That very thin edge is going to take some damage.”
The edge will begin to flatten to more of a round shape rather than a sharp, pointy angle. The edge can also bend or fold over — not something you’d be able to see with the naked eye.
When you sharpen a knife, you are grinding away some of the metal to reintroduce the proper sharp angle.
Learn How to Recognize When Your Knife Needs to Be Sharpened
The whole point of a sharp knife is to help you work efficiently, easily slicing through food without having to exert too much pressure.
Dull knives can also cause accidents when they slip over rather than cut through food. Arnold suggests tomatoes, lemons, bell peppers, and carrots as effective foods for testing whether your knife needs to be resharpened. Also, onions.
It won’t work for everyone since sensitivity to the tear-producing chemical varies, but Arnold says a dull knife is likely to break open more onion cells and release more juices than a sharp knife that creates a clean cut.
You don’t need to chop like a TV chef to get the job done
The cool-looking test that involves seeing how well a knife cuts through paper can be a little iffy, too. Even a sharp — but not perfectly sharp — knife might struggle to cut the paper.
Arnold also points out that the thickness of some paper products — printer paper, note pads, etc. — can vary and give you inconclusive results.
If he’s going to do the paper test, he relies on something like newsprint or coupon inserts, which generally have a consistent makeup.
If you’re worried that getting your knives professionally sharpened is too expensive to justify, you can rest easy. Most professionals will charge less than $10 to sharpen a standard chef’s knife.
Think about honing your knives.
Even if you know to sharpen your knives, you may not be as familiar with the concept of honing. Honing does not sharpen the blade.
Instead, Arnold says, it realigns the blade, correcting the bending or folding described above. Honing can be done on steel that looks a bit like a dagger.
You’ll often find them included in knife sets, but Arnold prefers the quality of steels you buy a la carte. He recommends this diamond-coated one from Messermeister, which costs around $30.
Other types are available in the $15 range.
To hone your blade, lightly run the edge of the knife at a 15- or 20-degree angle along with the steel. Three times on each side of the blade should be sufficient, Arnold says.
Ideally, you’d be doing this before (or after) every time you use your knife, but we’re not idealists here. Let’s get practical: Even doing it every so often will help.
If honing isn’t something you’re interested in, you won’t necessarily ruin your knife; you’ll just need to have it sharpened more often.
Use the right board.
Hard surfaces can dull or even chip a knife. Wooden or plastic boards are good choices, Arnold says. And as we’ve mentioned here before, when it comes to cutting boards, bigger is better.
Clean them properly.
Hand-washing is the best way to clean your knives. Dishwashers can be especially hard on knife handles, causing them to discolor, crack or separate from the blade. The racks or utensil basket can damage the blades and vice versa, and fishing a knife out of the dishwasher isn’t a recipe for safety, either.
After you wash a knife — a sponge with warm water and soap will do — dry it thoroughly, and carefully, with a towel. Do not store it dirty or wet unless you want it to rust.
Store them the right way.
Protect the blade, protect yourself. Never should you leave a knife blade exposed in a way that could cause injury. I prefer plastic sheaths on knives so I can keep them in a drawer.
Wooden blocks are acceptable, too, as are magnetic strips on the wall, so long as they’re not within reach of curious children or in a place where people are prone to bumping into them.
The Single Best Way to Keep Your Knives Sharp
Don’t Use Your Chef’s Knife
I know this might sound like silly advice—sure, if I don’t use the knife it won’t dull—but that’s not what I’m saying. The chef’s knife is one of the best kitchen knives, and there are a ton of times when you’ll want to use it.
Cutting vegetables, slicing meat, and chopping herbs, just to name a few. But, there are a few instances where I recommend that you don’t use your chef’s knife to prevent it from dulling quickly.
Don’t cut on a cutting board made of glass or marble.
These cutting boards are a breeze to clean, but they’ll dull your knife faster than you blink. Wooden cutting boards are the best, and plastic ones come in a close second.
Never slice bread with it.
The chef’s knife can not only slip and slide (which puts your fingers at risk), but that hard crust will actually damage your sharpened edge.
Never use it to slice frozen things.
Have a little patience and let it thaw. Otherwise, that super expensive (but fragile) Japanese steel could chip right off when it hits the hard, frozen block of food.
Now that you know what not to do, you are welcome to borrow my knife! Just don’t you dare put it in the dishwasher or throw it in a drawer when you’re done (both of which will dull it, too!).